Napa County presents goals through 2022
December 19, 2018
Should vineyard owners be allowed to serve tastings on site even if they do not have a winery?
How should Napa County support its wine industry?
These were among the issues addressed Tuesday before the Napa County Board of Supervisors as county officials unveiled a draft of a list of priorities for the next three years. The draft of the “Napa County Strategic Plan,” a 20-page document, includes goals for agriculture, housing, transportation, lifestyle and agriculture.
The draft was released after an 18-month process which included dozens of meetings with residents, non-profit organizations, wine industry groups and others. More than 2,700 residents were also surveyed, according to a staff report.
The supervisors on Tuesday postponed adopting the plan until Jan. 15 after listening to nearly 30 speakers, including representatives of the wine industry.
Small vineyard owners who also produce labels at custom-crush facilities asked to be allowed to offer tastings onsite to sell their wine. The growers said this creates an economic hurdle as they rely on direct-to-consumer sales to sell their wine.
They cannot afford to build a winery in order to offer tastings and sell their wine via the direct-to-consumer channel.
Small family farms are endangered in Napa County, members of the new group known as “Save the Family Farms” said.
“We need to make some changes here,’ said Ken Nerlove, a grape grower in Jamieson Canyon in south Napa County, before the meeting, as he handed out stickers that read “Save the Family Farms.”
Hayley Hossfeld, whose family owns Hossfeld Vineyards in Soda Canyon, said the family lost two homes and three quarters of their vineyard that was uninsured during the October 2017 fires, as well as two homes and a delivery truck and 95 percent of the vintage 2017 grapes. “I can confidently say we are the hardest hit vineyard in the area.” Her father died in 2009. Hossfeld, a winemaker, now manages it with her mother and two sisters.
She would like the opportunity to host limited customers at the vineyard, Hossfeld said. However, that is not possible without a winery permit.
It would be impossible to build a winery without investors, Hossfeld said. “Taking on investors ceases the whole idea of being. Family-owned and operated business,” she said. “That is now small family farms should have to consider to sustain themselves.”
In the meantime, Save the Family Farm has an ongoing petition on change.org. A website is anticipated to go up soon, representatives said.
Small growers stressed they do not have up to $2 million to build a winery.
Bill Wolf, a wine grape and olive grower in Gordon Valley and a leader of the group, told the Board of Supervisors the recent decision to allow out-of-compliance wineries to come forward by March 29 to become compliant, offers no viable solution for members of the group. They cannot come into compliance, he said.
Other groups spoke as well. Caymus owner Chuck Wagner and V. Sattui Winery president Tom Davies presented a “white paper” on how Napa County should support the wine industry, including how to relieve traffic congestion, and implement “sensible” changes to the permitting process. “The challenges in Napa are multiple,” Wagner said. Now is the time to come together, he said. “There is no need to be divided,” he said.
The white paper is a “suggestion” from a vintner’s point of view that might encourage change, Wagner said.
Davies said “Winery visitation should be based on infrastructure of the facility. Period.”
The rules on visitation were written three decades ago and no longer work, he said.
“Napa County does not tell a restaurant, a hotel, a bowling alley or dentist how many employees or visitors they are allowed to have each day,” Davies said. Wineries are the “lifeblood” of the industry, he said. “And without them, we are out of business.”
The permitting process has become prohibitively expensive and lengthy, Davies said. Minor changes to a winery should not trigger a major modification permitting process, according to the white paper.
Napa County should also take steps to preserve agriculture as the highest and best use of the land in the county. Napa County should encourage wine production in south Napa County, especially for wine production with out-of-county grapes, Davies said. “This would greatly alleviate traffic congestion upvalley and preserve the area’s pastoral character.”
Opus One Chief Executive Officer David Pearson, speaking on behalf of Napa Valley Vintners, praised the process. Napa Valley Vintners is fully supportive of it, said Pearson, chairman of Napa Valley Vintners.
“It’s both detailed and concise and we applaud the open, transparent process,” Pearson said.
Jim Lincoln, a member of the Napa County Farm Bureau, also spoke favorably of the new plan. “There is a lot that’s not new in here,” he said during a break. “But it’s just now stated. So it’s all positive.”
According to the draft, “Napa County is an agricultural treasure known for its legendary wines, our small-town character, and sustainable resources.”
Information on Napa County Strategic Plan is available at: https://www.countyofnapa.org/2414/Napa-County-Strategic-Plan
The article has been corrected.